President Clinton has sent his request for Congress to give him fast-track
consideration of trade agreements. Other articles in this issue discuss
the perils of greasing the skids for more "free-trade" agreements
that open up American markets and export American manufacturing jobs. The
bill the White House drafted does not mention the Multilateral Agreement
on Investments (MAI), the secretly negotiated deal to undermine local, state
and national authority to regulate corporations, but the wording does allow
MAI-type provisions on investment under the section on trade principles.
Stop the Corporate Power Grab
Such an agreement could allow corporations to sue governments to stop enforcement
of performance requirements and other "unreasonable barriers"
such as state or federal laws and regulations to protect the environment,
workers or consumers [See "MAI Fast Track Set," 8/97 Progressige
Populist]. Nations already are suing at the World Trade Organization
to overrule U.S. environmental regulations.
We are at a pivotal point, not unlike the United States in the 1890s, when
corporations consolidated their position after the Supreme Court declared
that corporations were entitled to civil rights afforded natural persons.
Then the corporations neutralized state power to regulate them. Now they
are trying to neutralize national sovereignty in the name of free trade.
Opponents of free rein to corporations should call or write their congressional
representative and senators. Call them toll-free at 1-800-522-6721, courtesy
of the AFL-CIO. And remember that our enemies are not the Mexicans and other
Third World workers, but the multinational corporations that are exploiting
them and us.
WELL, DANG, Fred Thompson's Senate committee has found out that access
is for sale in Washington. Now what are they going to do about it?
So Roger Tamraz, an oilman, spent $300,000 to get into the White House at
least four times, despite National Security Council objections. He hoped
for President Clinton's assistance with his project to build a 900-mile
pipeline from Caspian Sea oil wells to the Mediterranean.
Tamraz, who also gave to the GOP in the Reagan-Bush years, didn't even get
the favors he was seeking. Of course the obscenity is that regular citizens
get no more than a passing glimpse into the Executive Mansion on the official
tour, and not much more entree in Congress.
Our correspondent, Sam Smith, writes in his new Great American Political
Repair Manual that six industries -- waste management, mining, natural
gas, coal, oil and nuclear energy -- gave congressional candidates and political
parties $31.1 million in contributions in 1992 and gained $34.4 billion
in subsidies and tax breaks.
The Center for Responsive Politics reports that in 1995-1996 all the tobacco
companies together gave $6.8 million in soft money contributions -- $1 million
to Democratic Party committees and $5.7 million to Republican committees.
For that Big Tobacco not only gets kid-glove treatment, even after their
executives perjured themselves before Congress a few years ago, but a $50
billion tobacco tax break was snuck into the budget bill.
Perhaps the biggest boondoggle in recent history is the B-2 stealth bomber,
at $2 billion a copy. Now the General Accounting Office has found the B-2,
the pride of the Air Force, can't fly in the rain and the plane's radar-deflecting
skin is damaged by heat and humidity.
Molly Ivins noted in late 1995, the House voted to keep the B-2 program
alive by a margin of 213-210. The 210 members who voted against the B-2
got an average of $113 in campaign contributions from the Northrop Grumman
PAC -- Northrop being the maker of the B-2. The 213 who voted for it got
an average of $2,073 from the Northrop PAC. Northrop also gave $182,000
in soft money during '95-'96.
Candidates and officeholders protest that they are obliged to scrounge for
money from the get-go and keep after it, or they can forget about hiring
the consultants and buying the media exposure that is needed to get elected
and re-elected these days.
The solution is public funding of campaigns, under which candidates would
voluntarily limit their private fundraising and spending in exchange for
public funds. Last November in Maine, voters approved a Clean Money Campaign
Reform initiative, by a 56 to 44 percent margin, that offers full public
financing to candidates who reject special-interest contributions and agree
to campaign spending limits.
The success of the Maine ballot initiative has given greater energy and
focus to campaign finance reform efforts in more than a dozen states, including
Vermont, Massachusetts, Missouri and Arizona. U.S. Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass.,
has filed a "Clean Money, Clean Elections Act" for public financing.
Senators John Kerry, D-Mass., and Paul Wellstone, DFL-Minn., are said to
be preparing a similar bill for the Senate.
But the Republican congressional leadership, which has no problem raising
funds under the current system, is in no mood to allow a substantial reform
of campaign finance, knowing that it would benefit Democrats and/or honest
politicians. They don't even want the watered-down reforms that senators
John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) are promoting.
If it takes running reform candidates to change Congress, then it is time
to start raising those candidates.
In the meantime, as Smith suggests, we should force politicians who talk
about family values to talk about their own corporate dole; support legislative
efforts toward public financing; work to reform state and local elections;
and pressure parties to reform finance rules for their own primaries.
For information on campaign finance reform, contact Public Campaign, 1320
19th Street, NW, Suite M-1, Washington, D.C. 20036; (202) 293-0222 phone;
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Internet site: www.publicampaign.org
TWO RECENTLY PUBLISHED books ought to find their way to every progressive
populist bookshelf. They are Jim Hightower's There's Nothing in the Middle
of the Road But Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos and Sam Smith's Great
American Political Repair Manual.
Hightower's long-awaited volume, due for release in October, survived the
purges at Rupert Murdoch's HarperCollins publishing house. That suggests
that the New York bean-counters see commercial possibilities for Dead
Armadillos, and why not? Dead Armadillos is a distillation of
what Hightower has been saying for years on the stump, on the radio and
in publications like the Progressive Populist. It is powerful stuff.
Hightower examines the Dismal Science of Economics and what the big shots
are doing to the little guys, writing in simple terms, so that anybody can
Smith's Great American Political Repair Manual, published by W.W.
Norton and subtitled, How to rebuild our country so the politics aren't
broken and politicians aren't fixed, also puts the political and economic
theory down on the ground where the goats can get it.
If your local bookstore doesn't carry Smith or Hightower, but you have Internet
access, you can order them and the books of other Progressive Populist
writers at our book page.
THIS MONTH'S COVER stories are on transportation policy. I know that
makes many of us snoozy but even rural people, who know little of gridlock,
ought to care about developing alternatives to gas guzzlers.
Austin, Texas, used to be a nice, mid-sized, affordable city. Now growth
is slowly strangling our city; thoroughfares are slowed to a crawl during
"rush hour;" there is a call for more freeways to speed the newcomers
to their suburbs; and we're building a new airport.
Meanwhile in our hometown of Storm Lake, Iowa, population 8,500, where four
cars at a four-way stop is gridlock, an automobile is still a practical
necessity. You could walk or bike around town, but you can't come or go;
the town has not had intercity transit for years, since Greyhound stopped
regular bus service. We used to have not only the bus but two passenger
trains stopping every day, but deregulation allowed the railroads to drop
those marginal routes in the '60s; then the bus lines were cut back in the
On tour promoting her book, Asphalt Nation, Jane Holtz Kay said she
has met a number of young people, particularly those who have visited Europe,
who return to the United States wondering why we can't have a diversified
transportation system, including a first-class rail system.
"A good chunk of the public can't drive, including kids and old people,
and they need public transportation, even in the smaller towns," Kay
So why do we put up with the tyranny of the automobile and the airplane?
Urge your U.S. reps to support transportation alternatives in the ISTEA
(pronounced ice-tea) bill explained in Ben Lilliston's report. -- Jim
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